Punching Out America's Lights

The DC area gets a taste of environmentalists' hard work.

When a freak storm knocked out power across the Washington DC region for as long as a week, the obvious comparison with Sir Edward Grey's famous observation that "The lamps are going out all over Europe" during the runup to WW I was noted by any number of commentators.  No, we don't appear to be heading into a new World War or even a Civil one, at least not just yet; still, what with the dying economy, Obamacare, and the Supreme Court's ruling that, in effect, Congress actually can do whatever it wants without worrying about the Constitution, it rather seems that way.

There are closer direct parallels.  Newt Gingrich hit on one when he noted that the blackouts were a mild taste of what an electromagnetic pulse attack would do.

What nobody seems to have noted, though, is that the result of the storms was not just a taste of the lifestyle environmentalists would like to inflict on us all - one in which we swelter in the dark because power-guzzling AC units have been banned and electricity is so expensive we can't afford to turn on the lights.  The outages were in part caused by the actions of real-live environmentalists doing what they do best, which is stopping needed construction.

No, we're not blaming eco-freaks for the storms; we're not Al Gore who blames storms on Dick Cheney nor Barack Obama who thinks he can stop the tides.  If a tree knocks down the cable connecting your house to the power mains, you're going to be sitting in the dark no matter who is President.

Network Effects

Beyond the immediate line from house to street, however, our electrical power system is a network.  By definition, that means it's suppose to be like a "net" - i.e. not just one connection to everything.  Just as the Internet is supposed to have different ways to get from here to there that semi-automatically route around damage and keep the bulk of the system operating no matter what, our electrical grid is supposed to have redundant connections.

It would, too - if the greens would let them be built.  For years now, Virginia's Dominion Power has been trying to build new power-transmission lines to meet the needs of the ever-increasing number of bureaucrats and contractors feeding from the government teat.  Routes have been changed many times, with the costs ever increasing.  Five years ago, the Washington Post noted after one alteration:

The change would lengthen the route by 28 miles and add about $60 million to its cost, which the company would pass along to its ratepayers. The decision is intended to appease many of its most vocal critics, including Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and local lawmakers, who had urged respect for the region's land.

That line was placed in service last year.  How can it take multiple years to build a simple power line?  The Post's article gives a clue: environmentalists and their kept politicians pull out all the stops to stop it, or at least slow it down and drive up the cost.

As a regulated monopoly, increased costs don't really trouble the power company - they just pass the costs through to the ratepayer.  However, ratepayers can only be gouged so hard, and that $60 million spent on a needlessly long route could have been used on something else.

Such as?  How about burying the power lines where falling trees can't knock them down?

To bury power lines, utilities need to take over city streets so they can cut trenches into the asphalt, lay down plastic conduits and then the power lines. Manholes must be created to connect the lines together. The overall cost is between $5 million and $15 million per mile, according to the Electric Power Research Institute, Inc., a nonprofit research and development group funded by electric utilities. Those costs get passed on to residents in the form of higher electric bills, making the idea unpalatable for many communities.

That is a lot of money, to be sure, and it would be crazy to bury all the power lines in America or even in the D.C. metro area.  That wasted $60 million could have certainly taken care of several of the major trunks, though.  The $60 million is just one example of the cost of environmentalism.

Nothing is free.  When we tolerate extra costs being raised through the lobbying of green extremists, we always wind paying for it in a different, sometimes very unexpected, way.  Sometimes we swelter in the heat, and sometimes we freeze in the dark.  Either way, we pay the costs of environmentalists feeling good about themselves.

Kermit Frosch is a guest writer for Scragged.com.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Kermit Frosch or other articles on Environment.
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